Fashion Design and Art: Between Mutual Voracity and Disciplinary Self-Determination

From Firenze University Press Journal: Fashion Highlight

University of Florence
4 min readFeb 2, 2024

Juri Filieri, Università della Tuscia

Elisabetta Benelli, Università degli Studi di Firenze

Francesca Filippi, Università degli Studi di Firenze

Foreword: the Peer Relationship between Art and Fashion Design

Fashion DesignLooking back to the 20th century, the era in which the relationship between art and fashion definitively flourished, it is clear how much the definition that sees fashion as an inferior and frivolous reflection of art can be definitively overcome, in favour of a more complex and equitable relationship of mutualistic inference that places fashion precisely within the ranks of the applied arts of modernity. This confrontation, equal and alternately rewarding on both fronts, has been nurtured over time and has contributed to defining that common texture of comparison, today made up of hybridisations and increasingly blurred boundaries. Since the beginning of the 20th century, fashion has several times acted as a multiplier of knowledge and played a central role in the popularisation of art. This transversal contribution, manifested in the course of a century of strong social, economic and cultural transformation, rather than leading to the debasement or trivialisation of art, has rather resulted in the dissemination of artistic motifs among social groups, which until then may have had little contact with the major arts. Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dress is an example of AbstractObserving the 20th century, it becomes clear how much the definition of fashion as an inferior reflection of art is definitively outdated, in favour of a more complex and equitable relationship of mutualistic inference that places fashion within the ranks of the arts of modernity. Fashion has always utilised art in its rhetoric and draws on an innumerable series of expressions and idioms, contending with art for the esteem and social prominence accorded to high culture. The granted and denied relationship with time appears central in the definition of similarities and differences, essential to understanding mutual inferences and distinctive qualities in today’s increasingly complex and nuanced picture. While fashion constantly seeks (otherwise risking its very existence) a vector of engagement with the real experience of the public and with time (“con-tempo-raneo”), art lives on visionary paradoxes, on a higher spiritual need, translated into form.Keywords: Art, Fashion, Contamination, Time, Digitalthis: if one should establish a precise moment by which Yves Saint Laurent’s career took a decisive turn, this moment would certainly coincide with the presentation of the Fall/Winter collection of 1965. Inspired by the works of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, the collection initiated a revolution in the aesthetic relationship between haute couture and the art world, laying the foundations of what would become an increasingly intrinsic union. The cocktail dresses, made of wool and jersey, concealed the complexity of the workmanship behind the lines of the composition. A difficult craftsmanship that denotes the French designer’s ability to adapt a precise graphic style to the shape of the female body. The reference to Mondrian’s typical palette and colour-blocking once again is not a trivialisation of art, but rather represents the emblem of a research that unites the Dutch artist and the French designer, sublimated in essentiality and geometry applied to aesthetics.There are numerous examples of the contaminations that have inspired the design of garments or entire collections such as these (in the case of the French designer, the collection was called the Mondrian collection despite the fact that only five garments out of eighty recalled the geometric traits of the Dutchman’s pictorial synthesis) and still history repeats itself years later, under other new, less literal forms, within a living metaphorical and cultural dialogue. On 12 September 2010, pop star Lady Gaga is honoured at the MTV Video Music Awards for ‘Video of the Year’ and accepts the award wearing a meat dress1. Designed by Franc Fernandez based on a design by Nicola Formichetti, and produced by Haus Of Gaga, the dress attracted attention across the globe. It was named by Time magazine as the best fashion product of 2010 and simultaneously condemned by animal rights organisations all around the world.A dress of flesh had already been made by the Canadian artist Jana Sterbak in 1987, but in this case, it was an artistic product, which appeared and was conveyed exclusively within the perimeter of art spaces and therefore had a local audience, both in terms of the geography of users and in terms of the meanings conveyed. Curiously, the world press that covered the event made no mention of Sterbak. It is conceivable that the pop star arrived at this result of her own free will, and that her dress, due to the weight of the number of spectators reached by the staged provocation, obscured the artistic precedent in this case. However, the episode is interesting here because it almost definitively underlines one of the founding aspects of the premise: the definitive determination of fashion as a form of artistic production. The message hidden behind the artefact fetish worn and displayed to the public by Gaga was different from the one Sterbak had translated years earlier. As part of the American protest movement against the US armed forces’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the pop star and her entourage lined up on stage at the event four former servicemen and women expelled from the armed forces because of their sexual orientation, to declare support and stand up for the Lgbtqia+ community. Where does the original artwork fit into all this? How legitimate are such literal linguistic appropriations? These are questions to ponder, but what is certain is that the product’s fascination orientation, thanks to fashion, changes from academic to popular.


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